The best thing about Dan Gilbert is that he is Dan Gilbert. He reminds all of us what we already know but need to be reminded of from time to time: people just don’t change. They are who they are.
It’s obvious now- the midnight hour- Dan Gilbert did a big fake out with his mea culpa to get LeBron to come back to Cleveland for the purpose of winning a title and nothing more. Who hasn’t done that? Who hasn’t begged because in the moment we needed something, and once we got that something, we went back to the same sh***y habits we had before we were desperate. Because, like I said, people don’t change.
Since that meeting in 2014 in Miami that had Gilbert sweating bullets, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron have had a fragile truce. They never really let go of what happened, that moment in 2010 most of us know as The Decision. LeBron never forgave Dan for the letter. Gilbert never forgave LeBron for sending the Cavs into purgatory’s seven rings of hell. Without forgiveness, relationships never get repaired. You hold on to that angry baggage and then when conflict arises, it all goes sideways into Armageddon.
But Dan needs to be told about the math. The Cavs had the worst record in the four years that LeBron was South Beach-ing it; no other NBA team was worse than the Cavs. LeBron James matters. If Dan/LeBron was a marriage, then the couple stayed together for the kids but once the kids grew up, it’s over for good. The marriage has nothing left.
This marriage has nothing left.
Clearly LeBron knows that Dan Gilbert doesn’t care if he returns or not. Reports are that Gilbert wants “his team” back, as if LeBron has held the team hostage. That’s an over-exaggeration. What LeBron has done is build a team in his image. If he does leave for wherever, the Cavs just don’t make sense. Their identity is gone. They have a bunch of three point shot makers, no defenders or rim protectors, no creators or drivers. Plus Kevin Love. It’s a team that is out of balance. Collin Sexton is a pick I personally love but he is a ways away. His best attribute is his aggression and the hopes are he can Donovan Mitchell it. But maybe not.
If LeBron doesn’t return, Dan Gilbert and Coby Altman have to figure out what to do with this team. They like Larry Nance Jr. They are interested in keeping restricted free agent Rodney Hood, though other teams will force the Cavs to overpay him and they might balk at that. Jordan Clarkson is a question mark. He creates for himself and not others. He is easy trade bait because he doesn’t make that much in salary.
As for the dead weight. J.R. Smith. Tristan Thompson. Jeff Green. The chickens have come home to roost. To make James happy, the Cavs overpaid one dimensional specialists and now they are superfluous on a rebuilding team.
But let me put this out there. You can rebuild. The Lakers have drafted well. The only young player no one really wants is Lonzo but there is a market for Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle. The Celtics have drafted well. Everyone wants Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Even efficent-poor Marcus Smart has value.
So if you draft right you can flip young talent for veterans. But you have to draft right and you have to have a culture from the owner on down that creates optimism. Players want to be there.
Here’s my idea. Trade Tristan Thompson to the Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins, the player the Cavs gave up because LeBron said so. Wiggins can score. But he disappears with a dominant player like Jimmy Butler. He would be perfect with this version of the Cavs if LeBron decides he has done what he was supposed to do in Cleveland and now he is done. A Wiggins trade also gives Dan Gilbert legitimacy.
Dan Gilbert has to prove he can move on after LeBron much like the Lakers had to prove they could move on after Kobe and the Celtics had to prove they could move on after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo.
Dan Gilbert may have his wish in a few days. He may have his team back. He may breathe easier as a billionaire. He may be the center. It will be all about him. And that may be the Cleveland nightmare.
It’s all about him. Uh-oh.